As I watch the 2016 Rio Olympics, and cheer for all the athletes and my country, I cannot help but think about a 2014 commercial replayed at this year’s Superbowl that spoke to me. I was originally planning to write about “myth busting” and what I can or cannot eat with my training, but this topic a burning desire in my heart. In thinking about that commercial from the Superbowl, especially now as I watch the Olympics, it still hits a nerve, and makes me sad, angry, proud, and determined. Those emotions are not unusual for me. They hit whenever I see or hear about injustice, bullying or in equality, and how people rise above those difficulties. As a (self-described) strong and confident woman, I am especially bothered by stories of young women struggling with self-confidence and self-image due to feelings of inequality, bullying or societal limits. The commercial that hit me so strongly was from Always with the trend tag #LikeaGirl highlighting the limits society, intentionally or unintentionally, puts on women and girls by breaking down their confidence at a critical time in their adolescence.
For those who may not be familiar with the Always ad (and the follow up ad), it begins with young women, and later a boy and man, asked to act out the movements of running or throwing “like a girl.” As you watch the video, doing an activity “like a girl” is shown as silly and something of a mockery. Following those examples, however, young girls are asked to do the same and they react 180 degrees differently as these pre-teens put their hearts and souls into the effort and simply run (or throw) as any young athlete would. The difference is striking and highlights how societal “norms” can be destructive and so easily break down anyone’s, but especially a young girl’s, confidence. The overall theme of the #LikeaGirl campaign is that 72% of girls feel society limits them, but also that they are more willing to accept those limits. To me, this is NOT ok. Watch these ads. Recognize that these things happen DAILY!
Now, in the middle of week 2 of the 2016 Rio Olympics amidst the outrage over the sports coverage and reporting on female athletes, I continue to feel a disconcerting combination of anger, outrage, disgust and sadness over the discrepancy in the treatment of women athletes. “What discrepancies?” you may ask. Well the Huffington Post article does a fantastic, succinct job of explaining my frustration with the coverage AND how women in sports and THEIR successes are often minimized. My favorite line from the article is “It is heartening to see women at the Olympics getting airtime, and being celebrated for their seemingly superhuman abilities. But let’s allow those achievements to be their own.” Yes…please do. The men and women in the Olympics need to be celebrated for their amazing athletic feats. But please do not attribute their success to ANYONE else.
I am SO SO SO lucky to have parents who always encouraged me to do my best, but to also recognize my weaknesses. The taught me that I can do or be anything I wanted. They nade sure I was aware of the rest of the world – that there were people out there smarter, less intelligent, faster, stronger, weaker, slower than me – in a manner that encouraged versus discouraged me. As I re-watch the ads and watch the media coverage, I am so thankful my parents supported me no matter what. Yes…I’ve heard things like “try not to embarrass the boys” or had to deal with being more muscular than “accepted,” but I had a fantastic base of knowledge that I was not more or less than ANYONE…male or female. It was about the competition.
I watch the Olympics to see the best of the best compete against each other. No matter the gender, these people are ATHLETES. We should treat them as the amazing athletes they train to be. These men and women inspire me on a daily basis to hit the track, trail, bike or pool for my training. We need the media to treat them as equals and we need others to stand up for the disparity in athletics (like Olympic men stand up for women), and we need to ensure that young boys’ and girls’ understand their worth. Everyone should be #LikeaGirl…or LikeaBoy or Man or Woman or whatever. Athletes are athletes.